Friday, October 25, 2013

It's love that makes the difference

Anglican ministers and lay leaders, concerned at the falling away from biblical orthodoxy in parts of the worldwide Anglican communion, met in Jerusalem in 2008 and formed the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

The second GAFCON conference is in Nairobi this week. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, was unable to be present because of prior commitments. (No, that isn't the subject of this blog post.) He sent a videod message to the conference. One of the things he said was this:
The gospel has to be proclaimed by a church that is in unity. That's really tough - I don't underestimate the difficulty of that. It doesn't mean being unanimous, all saying exactly the same thing in exactly the same way. It means that, as Jesus prays in John 17, that we demonstrate by our love for one another that Jesus is the Son of God and therefore people are drawn to believe in Him. We've got to find ways of doing that and I don't underestimate the challenge that is to all of us. 
I pray. . . that you will find the determination, together with all other Christians, in passionate unity and love for one another, expressing disagreement graciously yet with powerful truth, to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and there is no other.
"My word," I said, "he's got it."

Christianity isn't a religion so much as a relationship: a personal relationship with a living Saviour. May those who have this relationship show such a love that the world cannot fail to be moved.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Music saved her life

Alice Herz-Sommer, who lives in London, is the oldest living Holocaust survivor. She is also said to be the world's oldest living pianist.

Born in Prague with a remarkable musical gift, she became a concert pianist. After the Germans invaded, she was sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp, a "show camp" of artists, writers and musicians.

She gave more than a hundred concerts for the starving inmates. They had only a little black coffee and a little watery soup, but music kept them alive. "This was their food," she says.

She survived the war, and moved to London some 25 years ago. She is 109.

I wrote a blog post about her almost two years ago. Now someone has contacted me to tell me of the release of a full-length film, The Lady in Number Six, telling the story of her life.

You can see extracts from the film here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Seven million lives snuffed out

The number of babies who die in the UK by abortion each day equals two Lockerbie disasters. The number of babies aborted each week is greater than the number of people killed at the World Trade Centre on 9/11. The number aborted in three years equals the casualties in the whole of the Second World War.

More than seven million have been killed by abortion in the UK in the past 45 years - equal to a tenth of the total population.

According to Government figures, 203, 419 babies were killed by abortion in England, Wales and Scotland in 2012. Some 98 per cent were social abortions; one per cent were because of suspected handicap.

A series of studies regarding children with Down's syndrome by a clinical fellow in genetics at a Boston children's hospital produced some remarkable results.

No less than 99 per cent of parents said they loved their Down's syndrome child; 97 per cent were proud of them. Four per cent regretted having them.

More than 96 per cent of brothers and sisters of Down's syndrome children indicated they had affection for them; 94 per cent of older siblings expressed feelings of pride. Less than five per cent said they would trade their brother or sister for one without Down's syndrome.

Of children with Down's syndrome, nearly 99 per cent said they were happy with their lives, 97 per cent liked who they were, and 96 per cent liked how they looked.

Yet more than 90 per cent of babies in the UK found to have Down's syndrome before birth are aborted.

This coming Sunday, October 27, is the National Day of Prayer about abortion, organised by Image, the Christian pro-life organisation. Will you join in? You are asked to pray with friends, in church or at home. You can find details and suggested prayer topics at

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hatred, persecution. . . and love

Why are Coptic Christians in Egypt undergoing their worst persecution since the 14th century, with horrific levels of violence, to the almost complete unconcern of the West?

Pre-planned destruction of scores of ancient churches, monasteries, schools, orphanages and businesses are said to have gone unreported for days across the West. Yet it has been the worst persecution for 700 years of the largest remaining Christian minority in the Middle East.

Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute Religious Freedom Centre in Washington, told a meeting in London organised by Lapido Media and the Henry Jackson Society that US newspapers, asking what difference Islamists winning elections in Egypt in 2011 would make, suggested merely that women would be prohibited from wearing skimpy clothing and Sharm el Sheikh would be closed as a tourist resort. This was "utterly trivial."

The media had failed to ask the most basic questions. Why were the Copts singled out? There was enough evidence to show that the violence was part of a plan to drive out the Copts, to terrorise them into leaving.

Historian Tom Holland said in terms of the sheer scale of hatreds and sectarian rivalries, we were watching something on the scale of horror of the European Thirty Years War.

Dr Jenny Taylor said the media's job had been impeded by "secular blinders." They tended to report the Middle East's religions as a "variant of a Westminster debate" with "left-wing underdogs and right-wing overdogs and Christians getting lumped in with the overdogs, if they get mentioned at all."

The Coptic Church in UK’s Bishop Angaelos said Muslims had often protected Christians. The church and civil society together were against the extremists.  Many Muslims had turned against the Muslim Brotherhood when it became clear there was no economic plan. He agreed there had been what felt like silence from Western churches, governments and indeed Western Muslims after the attacks.

Meanwhile 11,000 young people from 250 churches of all denominations were attending a three-day conference in a church conference facility in the desert 70 miles north of Cairo, despite a curfew and the fact that Egypt's railway system was suspended. Many watched the conference sessions live on two Christian TV channels, and thousands more on the internet.

The main prayer for the conference, titled One Way 2013, was that God would set apart these young people as a sacred generation for Himself, ready to do His work on earth.

A Muslim journalist, who visited the conference with Muslim friends out of curiosity, wrote: "We were overwhelmed by the spirit of love that spread out all over the place, from people who have just been facing a severe wave of attacks, burning, looting - people who had been severely suffering by fanatic Muslims. I was surrounded by a massive crowd of people who were taught to love and forgive. Their genuine spirit of love and angelic worship did not leave my thought!"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Putting the gospel into practice

Marie Monville was brought up in an evangelical church in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In her late teens, she married Charles Roberts. They had three children and almost 10 years together.

Over the years, Charlie's faith began to falter. The more Marie asked him to seek help, the more he withdrew. Apparently he was suffering from clinical depression.

On the morning of October 2, 2006, Marie led a prayer meeting at church. She and Charlie then walked their two oldest children, aged five and seven, to the bus stop, kissing them goodbye before Charlie left for work.

Later, Charlie telephoned. "I had never heard Charlie's voice sound like that before," said Marie, "not in almost 10 years of marriage. Something was horribly wrong."

Charlie told Marie he would not be coming home. She pleaded with him to come home, but he hung up.

Charlie went to the one-room Amish schoolhouse with a handgun, a rifle, a shotgun, a stun gun and two knives. He ordered the teacher, a teacher's help and the boys to leave. He bound 10 schoolgirls and lined them up against a blackboard. He boarded up the windows, and shot the 10 girls one by one - five were killed and five seriously injured - before turning the gun on himself.

Some time later, Marie was in the kitchen at her parents' home when she saw some Amish men coming down the street. "I knew they were coming to my parents' house," she told Piers Morgan in a television programme last week.

"I went to my mom and dad and said 'What do I do? Do I go out to talk to them?' My dad said 'You can stay inside. I'll go out and talk with them.'

"He met them on the driveway. I continued to watch from the window. And although I couldn't hear the words they spoke, I saw the embrace. You know, I saw them put their arms around my dad and put their hands on his shoulder. Everything about their gentleness conveyed the words I couldn't hear.

"When my dad came back in, we all are waiting to hear from him what they said. And he collected his thoughts, you know. And I knew it had been a deeply moving time for him as well.

"He said that they had forgiven Charlie and that they were extending grace and love to our family. They were concerned about me and concerned about our children."

Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.  Matt 5:44.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dying can be a great opportunity

What's the worth of a human life? If it's my life, can I do what I want with it? Do I have the right to end it when I feel like it?

Listen to John Wyatt, emeritus professor of ethics and perinatology at University College, London, writing in the current issue of Catalyst, published by CARE:

Many insist that we are like chimpanzees with extra brain, just one more species on the planet. Others believe we are basically machines, with brains like computers made of flesh instead of silicon and wires.

Another common attitude is narcissism or the elevation of the self, which is a form of idolatry. 'Everything that improves my life is great. Anything that diminishes it is negative. I have the right to choose how to live my life and also when it should end.' This mindset sees suffering as something to avoid, dismissing the idea that it could ever be of positive value. We see young people caught up in addictions that deaden the pain in and around them.

In secular thinking, human beings can be 'categorised' according to their value with high achievers and celebrities at the top all the way down to those who are totally unproductive and burdensome. Just think where this leads. 'Provided I am independent and able to choose, life is worth living but once I become frail, vulnerable, limited, I become less valuable - putting me out of my misery might be doing me a favour.'

Genesis 1 is clear that every human life is made in God's image. Psalm 139 describes us as 'knit together in our mother's womb. . . fearfully and wonderfully made.' Ephesians 2:10 says 'we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.' Jesus became human like us, choosing to be vulnerable, experiencing human fragility.

God chooses for us to live in a web of dependency on Him and others. We did not choose the circumstances of our birth and arrived completely helpless. As we grow, others may rely on us, and later we might need looking after again. In love, God calls us into existence by name; His plan for us reaches beyond the grave. For someone with dementia, this is crucial. They may forget who they are, but God knows, and remembers, holding their identity safe.

Christians should be particularly concerned about protecting the most vulnerable!  The brain-damaged, the disabled baby, someone severely harmed by life's circumstances, a frail older person - are they not made in God's image - all equal, special beings?. . . 

Palliative care is about living, helping to maximise someone's final days positively. I know of many who have 'died well' - finding time to restore relationships, say goodbye and let go as they focused on meeting God, many receiving Christ as saviour. Vulnerably ill people sometimes express suicidal thoughts but skilled and compassionate caring support transforms the situation. Dying can, by God's grace, be a great adventure and an opportunity, right up to the end, for a person to find purpose in their life.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

In the midst of darkness, the light shines

There has been a Christian church in Syria since the days Paul the apostle was converted on the road to Damascus. Never has the Christian church in Syria faced greater difficulties.

There were 2.3 million Christians in the country. Because they were allowed freedom to practise their faith by President Assad, opposition fighters - many of them militant Islamists - assume they support his regime. Christians are being kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered.

Almost the entire Christian population of one city - some 60,000 -  have fled. Some have been dying because of hardship and lack of medicines.

Some have been held for exorbitant ransoms families cannot pay. Some families have asked for their loved ones to be killed outright rather than face brutal torture. Christian homes have been invaded and pillaged.

One church leader said "I am not very optimistic that our Christian community will survive." Those left face a cold winter with no income.

But in the midst of darkness, the light shines. "When you hear about one Muslim coming to Christ, it's a great thing, and everybody rejoices," said a contact of Voice of the Martyrs in Syria. "Today in Syria I'm not talking about one person. We're talking about hundreds and even thousands of Muslims coming to Christ."

Muslims have attacked 85 churches in Egypt. Almost 80 Christians were killed outside a church in Pakistan. Forty students were shot dead in their beds in Nigeria.

Two Christian organisations providing aid are Barnabas Fund ( and Open Doors (

Whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.  1 John 3: 17, 18.

Monday, October 07, 2013

So God goes out - or does He?

In November last year, Julie Bentley became chief executive of Britain's Girl Guide movement. Ms Bentley, a leading campaigner for abortion and former head of the Family Planning Association, described the Guides as "the ultimate feminist organisation."

In June this year came the announcement that the Guides' promise, "I promise that I will do my best to love my God, to serve the Queen and my country, to help other people, and to keep the Guide law," was to be changed.

It was to become "I promise that I will do my best to be true to myself and develop my beliefs, to serve the Queen and my community, to help other people, and to keep the Guide law."

Secular meddling, you might think, with something that has served a good purpose for a long time.

"Sounds like a self-help manual," wrote someone. "Being true to oneself is what leads to the queue for X Factor auditions," said someone else.

In August, a group of leaders at St Paul's United Reform Church in Harrogate said they were going to use the old promise. They were threatened with expulsion: only the new promise would be recognised, said Girlguiding UK. "So much for diversity," wrote someone. "Secular totalitarianism."

St Paul's United Reform Church leaders were reported to have capitulated after a meeting with the organisation.

Enter Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The vicar, the Rev David Holloway (a founding member of the Christian Institute and a council member and trustee of Reform, the Church of England reform organisation), said the church's Brownie and Guide units were refusing to use the new promise, and were right to do so for five reasons.

First, he says, the charitable object of Girlguiding is to help girls "develop emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually," and according to the Guiding manual members are encouraged to be active in a religious faith. Jesus and the apostles made it clear that sometimes a person's self is a dark and conflicting source of deception and to be resisted. Eph 4:18 - 24 says we are to put off our old self and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. To which self are we to be true?

Second, being true to a self that is materialistic and gives free rein to sexual and other instincts is surely not in line with the charitable object of Girlguiding.

Third, men and women by nature do not put God first, others second and themselves last; they put themselves first. This can result, like the Guides, in "developing their own beliefs."

Fourth, the promise does not help girls deal with guilt. To encourage a girl in her delusion that there is no objective divine moral law, but all is from her own self, is cruel as well as spiritually and psychologically damaging.

Fifth, the new promise is illegal. The doctrine of the (established) Church of England, defined by law, refers to the Thirty-Nine Articles, which forbid "vain" or "rash" promise-making.

Jesmond Parish Church Brownies and Guides do not propose to disband, said Mr Holloway, but will be enrolling girls using the old promise.

"Their founder Baden-Powell would be horrified."

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The city without a river

Jerusalem is a capital city without a river. Rome has the Tiber, Paris has the Seine, London has the Thames, but Jerusalem doesn't have a river.   

But it will have.

Says Zechariah:

And in that day it shall be
 That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem,
Half of them towards the eastern sea (the Dead Sea)
  And half of them towards the western sea (the Mediterranean); 
In both summer and winter it shall occur.  Zech 14:8.    

The prophet Ezekiel describes it:

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple towards the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar. . . 

Then he said to me: "This water flows towards the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed.

"And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes.

"It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.

"But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt. 

"Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail.They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine."  Ezek 47:1 - 12.

Joel mentions it too:

And it will come to pass in that day
 That the mountains shall drip with new wine,
The hills shall flow with milk,
 And all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water;
A fountain shall flow from the house of the Lord
 And water the Valley of Acacias.  Joel 3:18. 

Jerusalem, of course, is where Jesus died and rose again. It's where He will reign when He returns, and it's where the nations will go up to worship:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
 That the mountain of the Lord's house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
 And shall be exalted above the hills;
And peoples shall flow to it. 

Many nations shall come and say,
 "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
 He will teach us his ways,
And we shall walk in his paths."
 For out of Zion the law shall go forth,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between many peoples,
 And rebuke strong nations afar off;
They shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
 And their spears into pruning-hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
 Neither shall they learn war any more.  Mic 4:1 - 3.
We are exhorted to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psa 122:6).  Next Sunday, October 6, is the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem. You can find details at